Nov 21, 2017
by John Haggard, Sophie's Cellars
It’s impossible not to note the devastation of not only the wineries lost, the homes and, indeed neighborhoods raised in their totality by this year’s fires. One of the few thoughts that I’ve had driving through Sonoma is noticing fire break lines where the vineyards are and where homes and businesses are no longer.
My first job in food and beverage was as a busboy at the Sheraton Round Barn Inn. The Sheraton was built just above the famous Round Barn. There’s a certain devastating feeling of knowing history, neighborhoods and lives all irreplaceable will no longer represent Sonoma County as everything must pass. It is my hope that as we re-establish our neighborhoods we may also agree that the time may have come to build in a more organic and certainly more fire-retardant way, however, the natural flora fauna must be replaced. Let’s not allow this tragedy change that which makes humans and nature coexist.
The harvest of 2017 produced typical fruit production and, from what I can tell, above average quality. Most of the fruit had been picked prior to the fires. Some berries from some varietals may have still been on the vine during the fires, those varietals are almost exclusively going to be in the Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec. These Bordeaux varietals need more sun exposure and a longer hang time and are typically left on the vine the longest.
Burgundies, such as Pinot Noir and many white varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc are typically harvested earlier in the season. As such, it is likely that the vineyards in the Western part of our county were even more immune to the fire damage and most of the Bordeaux vines within the fire zones are not necessarily tainted with smoke as it takes weeks for the skins to absorb smoke. The berry within the skin is not what is affected, it truly is the skin – just as the berry skin can be sun-burned from too much sun strike.
If leaves have been pulled too early and the temperatures become too high the skins themselves become burned causing flavors that can be bitter and like a burned caramel. If you’ve ever had a crème brulee, think of the flavor of the carmelized sugar (the burned flavor) – this is one of those characteristics that can happen in the vineyard.
When it comes right down to it, grape-growers are farmers, and the vineyard managers are doing the best they can in any vintage and winemakers are trying to adapt and produce the best vintage in a palate style that we may all enjoy. Frankly, there are even some wines that can benefit from smoky flavors.
It is important to consider the characteristics as a whole both natural and man-made created to enhance a flavor to the style in which you enjoy. Winemakers are artists, and sometimes even magicians, and I look forward to tasting the 2017 wines produced by our great Sonoma winemakers just as I have in all the prior years I’ve been in the industry.
I’d also like to mention our Napa neighbors who also suffered so much in these fires and it’s important for us to support each other – perhaps time for a wine trip through Napa and Sonoma! Happy New Year!
Winter Wineland January 13-14, 2018, 11am – 4pm each day.It’s the 26th Annual Winter WINEland and perhaps this year, after the fires that devastated so many businesses and those who live and work in Sonoma County, it would be a great time to help boost the Sonoma County economy and enjoy the perfect winter escape at the same time… taste current vintages, multiple varietals grown in Sonoma County, and even try a few verticals! Winter WINEland does not take place at one location, travel from winery to winery, visiting the ones you are interested in exploring. For more information visit www.wineroad.com.
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